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Senators voice concerns about environmental impact of Navy's training proposal.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - Oregon's two U.S. senators are asking the U.S. Navy to amend its plans for expanded warfare training in the Pacific Northwest, citing concerns about economic and environmental impacts of the government's plans.

The Navy wants to increase training exercises in the Northwest Training Range Complex, which mostly takes place in facilities near Washington's Whidbey Island but also includes some activities off the Oregon Coast.

After protests from the public, the Navy agreed to extend until Saturday the public comment period for an environmental impact statement that would consider the impacts of underwater minefield testing, explosive ordnances, expanded land- and air-based drills and sonar training.

During that time, many constituents of Oregon's U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, expressed fears that the training could harm or disrupt the migration routes for gray whales, among other impacts.

Navy environmental public affairs officer Sheila Murray said the impact on Oregon will be small and questioned some of the assertions made in the senators' letter.

"There's concern about explosive ordnance device ranges, but those ranges are in the Puget Sound, so I'm not really sure how that affects Oregon," Murray said. "The underwater minefield testing is a dummy minefield. Really, the impact to Oregon is going to be so minimal."

In a letter to Secretary of the Navy B.J. Penn mailed last week, Wyden and Merkley said they were concerned that the military's plans "pose substantial environmental and economic risks."

The lawmakers outlined four areas of concern: a potential for "irreparable harm" to fisheries and related industries on the coast, the impacts of sonar on marine mammals, impacts on endangered species, and the release of hazardous materials into sensitive marine ecosystems.

"We urge the Navy to reconsider the variety of scientific studies and methodologies used to support its environmental review process, to more fully explain potential environmental and cumulative impacts, to analyze all reasonable alternatives, and to identify any measures that may actually mitigate harm," the senators wrote.

Wyden and Merkley noted that the state's commercial fishery was valued at $421 million in 2006, and the recreational fishery at $31.9 million. With training activities that have the potential to damage fish habitat, the result could be bad news for the coastal economy, they said.

"We urge the Navy to work with our coastal communities in assessing impacts and finding adequate ways to mitigate impacts, including working with communities on the scheduling and locating of activities," the senators wrote.

Murray asked what "irreparable harm" Oregon fishermen have seen based on the testing that happens here now, suggesting there won't be a noticeable increase.

"The Navy does very little off of Oregon other than transit through there," Murray said. As for sonar, she said, "The Navy has 29 protective measures in place in order to avoid any effects on marine mammals," she added.
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Title Annotation:City/Region
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 13, 2009
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